September 16th, 1951, Baikonur Kosmodrone.
I can’t believe it, it actually worked, Valentina got to space – although only for a brief time.
Sure, Jebediah’s first attempt some time ago didn’t quite make it to space, although it did pass the Kerman line. I’ve enclosed a picture of it, standing at the launch site – nothing holding it, since, and I’m quoting Jebediah here, “They’ll just be in the way, and I’ll launch before it tips over anyway”.
It looks tiny and it is. A cockpit and two solid boosters is basically what it is. It didn’t quite go as planned though, for the first 15 or so seconds, it was just standing there, firing into the ground before it took off. Jebediah blamed not reaching actual space on this.
After Bill and Bob got in on the project though, it didn’t take them long to solve it – not that Werner likes their way of doing things, but they get results. Today, Valentina launched in the second ship of version two of the rocket, and it feels odd actually calling it that.
What Bill and Bob did was quite simple, as they said “we just need to boost it up a bit, so the initial burn also progresses towards space, instead of being wasted”, and that they did.
Their solution? Attach a number of smaller boosters to the bottom booster to get it off the ground. Is is genius or madness? I’m not sure I can tell, the longer I work with those four?
In any case, the first launch didn’t go so well, as the whole thing started to tip over and went completely uncontrolled – Valentina survived though, by jamming the stage-button hard and turning, to let the lit boosters pass by her, the launch photographer even caught a picture of her almost at the altitude she reached (and he survived the many actively hurtling boosters, as did everyone else and the space centre).
Valentina insisted that she could steer through the launch issues (Bill and Bob seems to think it might have to do with the 8 smaller boosters not firing at exactly the same time) – and a second version was built.
Today that launched, and while I’m still having a hard time believing it, it got into actual space! Werner’s tracking program worked perfectly again (sometimes it seems to be the only purposeful and sane thing that works around here), measuring Valentina only just scraping above 200 km – in actual space.
Werner don’t think we should push things fully on to more than 6 g’s with kerbals on board, and even Valentina and Jebediah seems to think that it shouldn’t get much higher; although their main argument is that they don’t want to do more weight lifting to be able to just hold onto the flight stick.
On the plane front, things went as last flight. The plane was swerving madly on the runway, but Valentina managed to get it airborne, although she used the chutes to get down. Simulations and trials with an actual jet plane, in order to break the sound barrier in an aircraft, had the same problems. No solution presented itself until Werner went and demanded to know what “the four” were talking about in hushed voices.
To my surprise, Werner actually liked their idea, and they immediately started to implement it.
Two launch clamps holding the plane pointing slightly upwards, and 4 of the boosters from their space attempt to “help it go”, as Bill put it.
And it worked. The runway even survived the 4 boosters crashing into it, although next time they’re launching the other way to spare it. But it got airborne, Jebediah broke the sound barrier (although we’ll need more powerful engines to get better altitude) and landed safely with the parachutes.
— Gene Kerman